Kochi: It was a game of two halves, as defending champions ATK held Kerala Blasters to a goalless draw in the opening match of the Indian Super League (ISL) season 4, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Friday.
The two-time runners-up, playing in front of an electrified audience started well, but it was ATK who had more possession on the ball and looked more threatening on the counter, with Zequinha even hitting the upright and Hitesh Sharma drawing a close save from the Kerala goalie, early in the first-half.
Big money signing Dimitar Berbatov however disappointed with his performance, more for lack of ball rather than a bad day and so did Iain Hume who was replaced after the hour mark with Mark Sifneos, the youngest foreign recruit in the ISL.
The game had more back-passes than attacking runs, with the custodians of both the teams called into action more than often, not to pull out a save, but to receive a pass. Debjit Majumder and Paul Rachubka were however upto the mark whenever called upon, with both pulling out a couple of wonderful saves as the match progressed.
A CK Vineet shot early in the first half had the fans at their feet but Debjit made a wonderful save as Pekuson failed to keep the ball in from the rebound. ATK continued dominating possession playing some slick passes but could not break a tough Kerala defence shelled by Sandesh Jhingan and hero of the match Nemanja Lakić-Pešić.
The home side however looked somewhat a different side in the second-half, with Berbatov, a frustrating figure in the opening half breaking loose a number of times. The incoming of Sifneos and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni opened things up, as Kerala found some space down the right side, with debut man Prasanth making some darting runs through the channels.
Robin Singh, who came in as a substitute with 25 minutes in the clock made a brief cameo, setting up Zequinha with a defence splitting pass, before almost scoring one himself.
It was however not to be, as the game ended goalless, with both the teams taking home a point each.